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Dispute may cause Shentel to drop major television channels

By Katie Demeria

Due to a dispute with the programming company Viacom, Shentel customers may see some major channels disappear from their televisions in the near future.

Shentel is in negotiations with Viacom, which owns MTV Networks, over both the company's proposed rate increases and its requirement that Shentel offer a greater number of channels than its customers actually watch, according to a news release.

Chris Kyle, vice president of industry relations and regulatory, said the rate increases would be applied to Shentel's customers, increasing the amount they pay for service.

Some of the major channels at stake include MTV, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central.

Either rates will increase or the channels will disappear by Tuesday if a negotiated deal is not reached by Monday.

In order to continue providing those channels, the release stated that Viacom would force Shentel to offer 18 other channels, "without any option to only carry channels that Shentel customers actually watch."

"They're forcing us to carry all of their channels if we're going to take a single one," Kyle said. "And the rates have nothing to do with Nielson data, how much our consumers are actually watching them -- because these companies have gotten to be so big."

Negotiations are still in progress, Kyle said.

"We continue to remain hopeful, but it's probably going to be much closer to the 31st before there's a breakthrough, if there is one, and that's unfortunate," he said.

Kyle said the company wants customers to know that this is not just a Shentel problem -- it is happening to other distributors, including both cable and satellite.

Forcing providers like Shentel to purchase channels as bundles, regardless of what the customers are actually watching, is a problem present across all major programmers, such as NBC, ABC and Disney.

"Every year, these programmers are coming with very high rate increases, and at the end of the day in the markets we serve, consumers are getting sick of it," Kyle said.

Kyle said Shentel is trying to educate consumers about these issues so they can take action by contacting local delegates such as Sen. Mark Warner or Del. Bob Goodlatte, making them aware of the issues cable customers are seeing.

"Even with the big satellite companies, they've seen blackouts from this issue, and that's when customers have suffered. That may be something that Viacom forces us to do, even while we're trying to negotiate," Kyle said.

Shentel has created a website to educate customers about the issues it is facing. To learn more, go to www.tvonmyside.com.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com

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